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Literacy Narrative Other Work

The Books That Made Me

My method for picking books at the library is as manic as I am, ranging from a particularly enthralling book description to the attractiveness of the cover art. For a very long time I read books as if I was part of a readers’ marathon.

My earliest memory in the literary context is not reading but listening. My mother is a self-professed bibliophile and often read to me and my sisters as part of a bedtime ritual. I read The Little House on the Prairie this way, and years passed before I picked up the series to read for myself and could almost hear my mom’s soft voice leap from the pages. Another vivid memory I have attached to my childhood is that of my grandfather, patiently reading a myriad of Dr. Seuss books, his New England accent seeping through as he put on a different voice for each page he read. When I read A Fly Went By to my niece I can’t help but think of him as I attempt to re-create the voices he adopted when reading the very same title. I can’t exactly pinpoint the moment when I stopped listening and began to actively engage in reading for myself, aside from the certainty that I was an aficionado of the Amelia Bedelia series well before I graduated Kindergarten for a brighter, more expansive literary future.

My conservative upbringing greatly influenced the genre of literature I consumed. One of my favorite childhood haunts was our church library, a room filled wall-to-wall with church-approved literature and the odd movie or so. From age eight to eleven, I took it upon myself to read every book in the fiction section of the library. I never quite understood why anyone would want to re-read a book when there were so many other books out there to conquer and cherish, however briefly. I read a stunning array of series’, from Nancy S. Levene’s Alex series to Beverly Lewis’ The Cul-de-Sac Kids series, a collection of tales that made me desire the apparently glamorous life of a person who lives on a cul-de-sac. Somewhere in between Apple Turnover Treasure and Double Dabble Surprise, I began to take notice of literature outside of the Christian fiction genre. I became obsessed with collecting Nancy Drew series, adding “mystery” to the ever-growing list of books I enjoyed reading. The Boxcar Children weren’t far behind Nancy’s sleuthing ways, and eventually, A Series of Unfortunate Events made its way onto my radar. One year for Christmas my aunt gifted the second through the fourth book to me, and I distinctly remember sending my mother out to purchase the first book by New Year’s Day.

The book I most easily identify with my childhood is Lily’s Crossing, a Newberry Award-winning novel by Patricia Reilly Giff that I read in the third grade. Lily’s story captivated me in a way that no book (as far as I can remember) had done before; though it was only a children’s book, I found it hauntingly beautiful and that feeling stuck with me long after I had forgotten the major plot points and intricate details included within the pages. With Lily’s Crossing, I can mark where my love for historical fiction began to dominate my book choices. I devoured the American Girl series’, fell in love with Ann Rinaldi’s stylistic storytelling, went on a considerable number of journeys into World War II with authors like Lois Lowry and Brock and Bodie Thoene. I was not limited to historical fiction, however. Bi-weekly trips to the local library meant I could stand in the tiny section dedicated to YA Literature for hours and simply let the books choose me. My method for picking books at the library is as manic as I am, ranging from a particularly enthralling book description to the attractiveness of the cover art. For a very long time, I read books as if I was part of a readers’ marathon. I distinctly recall reading the entire Chronicles of Narnia within a week. It wasn’t until I was about seventeen that I realized how much of my life I had dedicated to recreational reading. Around my junior year of high school, my so-called “social” life began to endanger my beloved hobby. I began to understand the value of recreational reading (versus the assigned books I detested so openly) and cherished the time I was able to set apart to read on my own. As for what books I read now, I think you’ll find my literature choices are just as displaced as my age. I’m certain there will always be a part of me that is drawn to the YA section, a place where the John Green’s and Sarah Dessen’s of the world shine brightest. More and more I find myself overwhelmed with the options available to a young person in the literary world. I could spend years attempting to tackle the classics, from Tolstoy to Austen, or take my readership elsewhere, in the form of autobiographical novels written by celebrated figures of history. In recent days I’ve been more inclined to read works written by exceptional people, such as the recently deceased Nora Ephron or the ineffable Neil Gaiman.

My mom has always been a catalyst for my appreciation of literature. Because I was home-educated literally right up to my first college class, I didn’t have an inspirational English teacher for my sophomore year of high-school. I had something better, I suppose. In addition to being my caregiver, hand-holder, cheerleader, and adviser, my mother was my personal librarian. She encouraged me to read books I would otherwise dismiss as uninteresting. One of these works is that of Elizabeth George Speare, The Witch of Blackbird Pond. My older sisters had reliably informed me that this novel was boring and I happily believed them. But eventually my mom wore me down, and I read the entire novel in the course of an afternoon. My mom also pushed me to read titles such as To Kill A Mockingbird, the Sarah, Plain and Tall series (I suspect this was largely due to its New England setting) and purchased the entire Anne of Green Gables series for herself, which prompted me to read them as well. I’ve since returned the favor, recommending the odd book or two and hoping against hope that they meet her approval.

Reading as much as I did definitely inspired me to write. One of my more memorable pieces would be a Word document titled “It’s Not Easy Being Twelve”, a riveting tale narrating the trials and tribulations I experienced as a twelve-year-old. When particularly vivid dreams of mine were lost forever to the dream-world, my solution would be to sit at my desktop until I finished the story myself (imagine my chagrin when I discovered that this was the method in which Stephanie Meyer came to write the Twilight series). Another manner in which I exercised my somewhat questionable writing skills would be through blogging. I’ve become a bit of a social networking junkie, collecting accounts on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Blogger, and a number of older sites such as Xanga and Myspace. I created my first blog when I was fifteen. I’ve been anonymously sharing my work ever since. A great deal of these posts were limited to teen angst and nothing more, but over the course of my blogging career I’ve written several narratives, fleshed out original characters, and built up an understanding of the mechanics of writing.

Just as my passion for writing is directly linked to my passion for reading, my choice of major is closely attached to each of these passions. True, science-based subjects have never been my strongest, but hatred for math is not the key motivation behind my decision to major in English. Ultimately I chose to major in English because it is the one subject I have always felt connected to. I was fortunate enough to graduate early and get a head start on my higher education thanks to my status as a home-educated student, and it wasn’t until a few months before that took place that I made the decision to study English. It just made sense. In my life, I very rarely experience moments of clarity, but when I consider my major choice I don’t have a feeling of uncertainty or regret. Since becoming an English major I’ve become accustomed to a specific line of questioning that ranges from the typical “So, do you want to teach?” to “You realize you’re not going to make any money with that degree, right?”, a question I acknowledge and also despise. Maybe I’m a romantic, but I don’t relish the idea of pursuing a degree and/or career that I’m not entirely committed to, through and through. I’ve been relatively lackadaisical about my education to date, taking the odd elective here and there; hoping that the answer to what I’ll be doing with an English degree post-graduation would come to me in a sudden epiphany. Thus far, there have been no great realizations for what I’m meant to do after earning my coveted degree in English, but I refuse to believe that this discredits my choice to major in the subject.

By Kathryn

KATIE is a twenty-something held together with iced coffee and her wits. She writes personal confessions and pop culture chronicles.

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